Prince Charles is replacing his mother as the British Monarch. It was Charles who visited New Zealand last year as part of her jubilee commemorations and it was Charles in Sri Lanka at the weekend for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Unless we reform the position, Charles is set to become our next head of state. Irrespective of what you may think of the man, he will be unable to properly fill the role. He is not a New Zealander and he cannot represent us internationally.
Charles was not in Sri Lanka to represent New Zealand. Nor is his presence essential to the Commonwealth. Only 16 of the 53 member states use the British Monarch as their head of state. The majority are republics or, like Malaysia and Tonga, have their own monarchy. The position of Head of Commonwealth is not the same as New Zealand's head of state.
The role is constitutionally important but ours is not achieving what we need it to. The office is supposed to be neutral and the office-holder must represent all New Zealanders as a symbol of our constitutional authority and, internationally, as the diplomatic representative of a fully independent nation. The British Monarch is simply not up to the task.
An appointed Governor-General partially fills the role but he or she does not carry the full authority of a head of state. A former top diplomat and Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Peter Hamilton, recently made it clear that using the British Monarch as our head of state is holding us back. The Queen cannot represent New Zealand when she travels and neither will Charles. No one sees them as anything other than a representative of Britain.
Prince Charles' public image is carefully orchestrated. He seldom gives interviews and he pays a great deal of attention to keeping up appearances. This is evidenced in the recent Time magazine article. With classic PR spin his greatest fault ("meddling" in the affairs of the British government) is being framed as a virtue. He has become Charles, the Prince who cares so much he wants to get involved.
The head-of-state debate in New Zealand is often hindered by arguments over the personalities of the British royal family instead of focusing on the demands of maintaining a modern democracy in a globalised world. The real issue is what we stand for as a nation and who represents us. It is about us, not about the royal family.
The Mountbatten-Windsor family may exist in the media as celebrities but that is of little use to us constitutionally. Only a New Zealander can fulfil our highest constitutional office.
It is unacceptable that New Zealanders do not have a say in who holds this position. The most straightforward solution is to replace the Governor-General and the monarch with a single, democratically selected head of state. We can streamline and update the role by adapting existing laws and traditions.
The office holder must be a New Zealander in order to properly represent and symbolise New Zealand. The position is one of constitutional leadership, as evidenced by the Governor-General's speech this month on next year's election, and must be diplomatically effective.
There need to be clear rules about powers and position. We can no longer rely on an outdated and piecemeal approach.
How we choose the role is vital but irrespective of how we make nominations and whether we choose direct or indirect election, the position must be a democratic one. In a diverse and democratic country it is the only fair way.
There is no point rushing or adding new powers just yet. Incremental change is best. We already pay for Government House and a Governor-General. We might as well get value for our money.
Prince Charles might be a great guy who cares a lot. Camilla might enjoy a bawdy joke but, really, we will never know. They live in a rarefied world of which few of us will ever be a part. Royal Ascot and long regal titles might be part of British high society but are not relevant to Kiwis who want a pragmatic, approachable and dignified New Zealander.
If people want to follow Charles as a celebrity then that is up to them - but the British Monarch should not be part of our constitutional arrangements. Charles belongs to Britain and it is up to the British to decide how he might be of use to them.
Savage is an Auckland writer and filmmaker. He is vice-chairman of the Republic Movement.